A Weavers’ Road Trip: Maurice Brassard et fils

IMG_8070It ain’t easy being a weaver.

Knitters, crocheters, quilters—you all usually have access to yarns and fabrics and textiles somewhere near where you live. Even if it’s a big-box craft or fabric store, usually there is someplace you can go to touch and fondle and squeeze the object of your desires.

Many, many weavers are not so fortunate. Stores dedicated to weaving are rare and located in far-flung places. We can go to local yarn shops (if there is one!) but most yarn that is designed for knitting and crocheting is not suitable for weaving—it’s often stretchy, often bulky.

So weavers are very dependent on the internet and on catalogs. And thank heaven for those shops, the places like Yarn Barn of Kansas, Halcyon Yarns, and the Woolery! A weaver can buy a set of sample cards to guide purchases and get beautiful things delivered to her door.

But, as anyone knows who works with fibers or textiles or any art supplies, there’s nothing like going into a well-stocked store and browsing the aisles, wandering the rows, and touching everything.

For that reason, my husband and I took the long-ish road trip to the small-ish town of Plessisville, Quebec, to visit Maurice Brassard et fils, makers of weaving supplies and home of LeClerc looms.

Yummy!

The round trip took us seven hours by car and isn’t one we will do often but the experience was so worth having! Just look!

I’d say that Maurice Brassard is primarily set up as a wholesale operation. We knew going in that we could buy these yarns at any of the on-line shops we use. The retail store has a warehouse feel—bins of yarns organized by fiber and by color—with little done in the way of presentation or marketing.

The shop is open to retail buyers but doesn’t really cater to them. Buyers are left alone to ramble and gawk, no one hovers and offers input. The whole place closes for an hour and a half at lunch and for two weeks in the summer. The checkout process is more time-consuming and old-fashioned than you find in most retail shops and, much to our shock, they don’t accept credit cards!

It was also a bit of a setback for us, English-only Americans, that only one person who works there, in the office and not in the showroom, spoke English at all. We didn’t get to ask many questions.

And, yet. . . . color and abundance and sheen and variety know no language.

It was such a luxury to walk around and see these fibers! To be able to see and touch the rich texture of the chenille and the unbleached linen. To be able to pick up a cone of color and walk around with it and hold it up next to other colors, instead of operating from little scraps attached to a sample card—I think I was hyper-ventilating!

Maurice Brassard et fils also purchased the long-established LeClerc loom company in 1995, so the showroom was a place to see and try a number of loom models, as well as to be able to handle and purchase other weaving tools. Again, this was a huge thrill for us—we’ve only seen new looms in catalogs or online!

We might’ve been a little overwhelmed. We might have gotten a little carried away. We might’ve had autumn on our brains when we chose our colors.

We didn’t buy a loom but bought plenty of yarn. With not nearly enough cash on hand, we made a flying visit to a bank and got back just before the shop closed for the long lunch break.

It was a long day—nine hours on the road.

We drove home via the rolling hills of rural Quebec, where the ancient barns are clad in weathered cedar shakes and every house has a huge hydrangea bush, showing the subdued colors of approaching fall.

We brought back lots of lovely work to keep us busy and happy and creative through the long North Country winter.

Our senses were filled, to capacity and beyond. We will struggle to go back to choosing yarns from a catalog or computer screen but still feel fortunate to have that option. And we will know that Maurice Brassard et fils is only a road trip away.

It ain’t easy being a weaver . . . but it’s good.IMG_8084

Reading the Writing on the Weaving

IMG_9458One thing any weaver will tell you is that, with even a tiny bit of weaving experience, you will never look at fabric the same way.

You’ll look at your denim jeans and see the twill.

You’ll look at the packages your sheets come in and really understand what 400-count thread means, especially since your own weaving involves, maybe, 20-count threading.

You’ll look at all those fabrics in museums—the old tartans and the overshot coverlets—and see them differently, in really fundamental ways, because you have a sense of what went into making them and how hard the human hands worked, to create those patterns.

Even if I never planned to weave again (and I do!), I’d still value the insight into textiles and fabrics I’ve gained from learning the basics. With all my day-to-day handing of vintage fabrics, I understand them better than I did before.

Such is the case with a blanket I own.

I purchased a stack of old blankets from a friend having a garage sale. I’ve sold a lot of what I bought—the pretty blankets in good condition.

But I left a few others aside—when I originally looked them over, they struck me as simply tattered old utility blankets.

This one, for instance. Definitely made of wool—the moth holes and nibbles attest to that. The wool is heavy, undoubtedly warm, but rough and scratchy.

IMG_9451I didn’t give this blanket a second thought until last week when I was trying to dig out of my deep, dark pile of less-than-perfect vintage stuff. I took the blanket out to decide whether to try to sell it or donate it or give it to the vet for use in the animal cages.

As I looked it over, my eye, the eye of the fledgling weaver, let me see the blanket differently. I’m pretty sure that what I have is a blanket that was hand woven on a home loom in Canada. So, instead of a ruined old wreck, I’m seeing the blanket now as a fascinating bit of domestic history.

What have I got to go on?

I think it’s Canadian because most of the other blankets I bought were manufactured and had tags identifying them as being made in French Canada. Quebec is maybe 15 miles from my house and the woman from whom I bought the blankets is married into a family of French-Canadian descent.

I think it’s hand woven because of idiosyncrasies that we wouldn’t expect to see in manufactured fabric. The blanket is made of two long, narrow pieces (more on that in a bit) that have been sewn together. The pink and blue stripes on the two pieces simply don’t come close to matching up.

IMG_9453In weaving, there’s a phenomenon called “drawing in.” It happens when the weaver pulls the horizontal weft threads too tight on succeeding passes and the width of the woven piece gradually narrows. I’m guessing that’s what happened to one section the blanket, and it made all the stripes in that section a little narrower.

The overall width of the blanket is about 54 inches but the width comes from two 27-inch-wide panels being sewn together down the length of the blanket. It seems to me that no one would weave a blanket 27 inches wide unless they had to because they were working on a loom that small enough to fit into a small room in an older, rural home.

These are little things, I know—no earth-shaking discoveries that will change anyone’s understanding of textiles in 20th-century North America.**

But looking at the blanket again, and seeing these little clues, delighted me.

It’s still a tattered old utility blanket but now it’s a tattered old utility blanket with human fingerprints all over it.

Now I don’t see the moth holes or feel the scratchiness of the wool. Instead, the blanket conjures a mental image of a woman (although it could easily be a man), weaving wool from the sheep she keeps. She weaves in dim light, on a cold Quebec evening, making a blanket to add some warmth to the bed her children sleep in. She walks away from the loom, to stir the stew and check the rate at which the snow is falling. And then she sits back down again, to weave.

And to write her story.

IMG_9460________________________________________________

** I’m also all too aware that I may be reading this all wrong because I am so new to weaving. If any experienced weavers read this and want to provide more or different insight, please do!

**EDITED to add: As my wonderful commenters have pointed out, I confused the warp and weft in the blanket–duh! But, isn’t it neat to see how they can “read” the blanket better than I can because of their advanced skill and experience?!

 

To Market, To Market . . . Jean-Talon in Montreal

IMG_9005Where summers are short, we must celebrate them intensely!

Montreal knows this, and her people glory in markets and street life, exploding with fresh flavors and colors. I’ve taken you along, in an earlier post, to Atwater Market. Today, we visit Marche Jean-Talon, with a stop in Vieux Montreal.

Whatever season currently prevails where you live, immerse yourself for a few moments in summer!

 

To Market, To Market . . . Atwater in Montreal

250px-AtwaterMarketIs there anything better than a farmer’s market on a perfect autumn day?

Maybe the only improvement would be to visit one in a setting a little different than the ones you normally frequent, with some exotic choices mixed in with the usual favorites.

We spent yesterday at Atwater Market in Montreal. The market is set in and around an Art Deco building and opened in 1933. It has interior space with stalls that feature meats and cheeses and baked goods; during the summer, outdoor stalls overflow with beautiful produce and flowers.

Shopping in a country other than your own always brings discoveries and surprises. We bought ground cherries, which we’d never heard of but are obviously related to Chinese lantern plants; these are meant to be eaten instead of displayed. We got chocolate-covered brandied cherries and chocolate gianduja bars. A cheddar made with Guinness beer, heirloom tomatoes, salt and pepper cashews, fresh croissants . . .

I have two regrets. We didn’t have a car so we couldn’t really dive in. And we didn’t buy the maple and bacon-flavored potato chips. Time to start planning the next visit!